Ash Barty has a shot at history this evening when she faces off against unseeded American Amanda Anisimova for a spot in the French Open final.
- Ash Barty takes on Amanda Anisimova in the French Open semi-final at 7:00pm AEST
- Todd Woodbridge believes Barty has “more skill than any other player on the tour”
- The women’s semi-finals will be played on outside courts due to fixture pile-up
Barty has already progressed further than she ever has at a Grand Slam by reaching tonight’s semi-final, but will be desperate to go one step further and reach her maiden Grand Slam singles title.
The 24-year-old Queenslander has tasted success at a Grand Slam before, winning last year’s US Open doubles title with CoCo Vandeweghe, but is in uncharted territory when it comes to singles.
Barty is one of three of the four semi-finalists who have never been at this stage in a Grand Slam before in their careers. Sydney-born Brit Johanna Konta is the exception.
However, as world number eight, Barty is the highest-ranked player still left in the women’s draw at Roland Garros.
Can she win?
The answer is yes, according to Australian great Todd Woodbridge.
“What stands out for me is there’s no fear, this tournament over the last 10 years has thrown up some unusual winners,” Woodbridge told the ABC.
“Whoever wins this one goes on to win the tournament.
“When she’s in good form, good touch, she has more skill than any other player I think currently on the tour.”
Woodbridge believes Barty’s skill set is equal to that of the greats of the game.
“You think of Evonne Goolagong, one of her mentors, who had the classic athleticism and the fluid strokes. That is what we’re seeing from Ash.
“Statistically she’s served as the number one player throughout the tournament and at five-foot-five, that’s an incredible stat.
“We’re seeing a sliced backhand that rivals Rod Laver or Roger Federer.
“Great composure, good athleticism, great shot-making and great skills.”
Barty is set to move into the world’s top five regardless of what happens in the semi-final, just three years after her return from a two-year cricketing sojourn, a break that Woodbridge credits with Barty’s rise.
“She worked out how much she liked it … [and] how much of an opportunity she had in tennis, and I think that took a lot of stress away from her.”
For her part, Barty said she was playing the best tennis of her career on clay, a surface she did not traditionally favour.
“I feel like I’m playing some of the best tennis that I have,” Barty told the WTA website after her quarter-final victory.
“Today was certainly some of the best tennis I have played on clay in my career.”
However, Woodbridge said he felt the surface was ideally suited to Barty’s game.
“This court gives her time to showcase her skills and we see her bring opponents forward into the part of the court they don’t like.
“She can out-duel them from the baseline and then she out-finesses them when she brings them forward.”
Who is Amanda Anisimova?
Standing in Barty’s way is Anisimova, the 17-year-old American who sensationally knocked out reigning champion and third seed Simona Halep in the quarter-final, 6-2, 6-4.
Ranked a career-high number 51 in the world, Anisimova is the youngest America woman to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since Venus Williams did so at Flushing Meadows in 1997.
Ominously, she is yet to drop a set this tournament, admitting that her own form has surprised her.
“I have been playing very well. But today I knew I had to do something different because playing against Simona, I mean, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy” Anisimova said.
“She’s an amazing athlete and player. I was just trying to show my best tennis and trying to play different from what I normally play because I knew I had to do something a little bit different just to get the win.
“I just played the best tennis of my life. I don’t know how, and I don’t know how I did it, but it just happened.”
Anisimova reached the fourth round of the Australian Open this year, but won her first career WTA title on clay in Bogota, beating Barty’s Australian compatriot Astra Sharma in the process.
She has never played Barty in a singles match on tour.
This year, the women’s semi-finals matches were scheduled to be played on the main show court, the 15,225-capacity Court Philippe Chatrier, on Thursday.
However, due to rain washing out an entire day’s play on Wednesday, that schedule has been thrown into chaos.
Complicating matters is the fact that the men’s semi-finals have to be played on the same day to allow the winner enough time to recover before the traditional Sunday afternoon final slot.
Additionally, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal will face off in one of the most anticipated semi-finals in French Open history, followed by Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic.
Much to the disappointment of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), the women’s matches have been bumped to the other two show courts in the Roland Garros complex.
Barty’s clash with Anisimova will take place on Court Suzanne Lenglen, which holds 10,068 spectators.
The other semi-final between Konta and Marketa Vondrousova has been moved to the unique Court Simonne Mathieu, which incorporates greenhouses on all four sides but only seats 5,000 people.
Former French number one Amelie Mauresmo was furious, tweeting that the decision was “shameful”.
“There’s no doubt that scheduling has been challenged by weather conditions and the WTA understands the scheduling issues presented at Roland Garros,” WTA boss Steve Simon said in a statement.
“We are, however, extremely disappointed by the scheduling of both women’s semi-finals on outside courts.
“This decision is unfair and inappropriate.
“The four women who have played so well and made it this far have earned their right to play on the biggest stage.
“We believe other solutions were possible which would have been to the benefit of fans as well as all players.”
French Open tournament director Guy Forget said the decision was made in an attempt to be “fair to everyone”.
For their part, the players do not appear too concerned as to where they play.
“Obviously we would love to play on Chatrier,” Barty said.
“For me … it doesn’t really matter which court I play on.”
Animisova said: “I’m happy I get to play tomorrow. They are all beautiful courts.”
Barty’s match is due to start tonight at 7:00pm AEST.